Paid Volunteers

There’s been some kerfuffle over President-elect Obama’s proposal to require encourage high-school and college students to perform community service. Some bloggers have likened the proposal (which originally appeared mandatory) to slavery, or Marxism, or indentured servitude or something else Wholly Evil. Michelle Catalano has rightly taken them to task. Unfortunately, she misses the real problem with paid volunteerism. She says,

Community service is not a dirty word; nor is it an idea to be tossed aside because you don’t like who is delivering the message about it. Encouraging our youth to take part in something selfless is encouraging them to be better human beings. What could be better for this country?

Smart, effective polices would be better for the country, not more inane paid volunteerism.

The proposal, as it appears on change.gov (the official website of the President-elect… what will it become on Jan. 20? moreofthesame.gov?),

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

$4,000 for 100 hours of “volunteer” work.

It’s insane. What “community service” work can a 19 year-old crit lit major do that’s worth $40 (tax free!) per hour?

I’m not opposed to community service or volunteer work, but $40 an hour is wildly absurd. We live in a world with limited resources. When we spend money on one project we have less to spend on another project. When we spend $40 for an hour of work that’s worth $8 (and that’s generous) we’re wasting $32. This seems kind of elementary… right?

If we want to increase the amount we subsidize professors and college administrators, then let’s just be honest and increase their subsidy directly. But maybe that’s a harder sell…

As for me, I’m going back to school!

(Or maybe I could build lousy cars… that’s worth even more money!